Theater review by Adam Feldman. Duke on 42nd Street (see Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Sara Cooper. Music by Zach Redler. Dir. Joe Calarco. With Catherine Cox, Leslie Kritzer. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
The problem with The Memory Show is not its tricky subject matter, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; Next to Normal and other works prove that you can build a musical-theater plot around mental illness. The problem is that librettist Sara Cooper has not built that plot. The show is all static situation: A drifty young woman, Daughter (Kritzer), moves in with her increasingly dotty and hostile mother, Mother (Cox), and developments fail to ensue (until a forced, unconvincing last-minute revelation). Although insanity can lead to dramatic events, it is not necessarily dramatic in itself; on the contrary, it moots the questions of motivation that might underpin an interesting relationship onstage.
Holding her body at odd angles and braying unpleasant tones, Cox is believably demented, and Kritzer moves ably between frustration and forbearance. But their songs—most of which are delivered as monologues to a hazily conceptualized audience—are therapy-session stuff, in a largely self-pitying idiom. (An exception, though not a happy one, is Kritzer’s novelty number about cleaning Mom’s bathroom: “The two of us, toilet, / Not so good. / You flush away your problems, / And I would if I could. / How are you supposed to talk to your mother once you’ve touched her poo?”) Zach Redler’s melodies, which owe a noticeable debt to Jason Robert Brown’s, show promise, especially as embellished by Lynne Shankel’s unsettling orchestrations. The four-piece band in the corner offers something to listen to in moments when what’s happening onstage, or isn’t happening, prompts a spectator’s mind to drift.—Adam Feldman
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